Saturday, July 02, 2005
With Encouragement From Fairfax, Civic Groups Question Developers
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 2, 2005; Page B01
Leaders of the McLean Citizens Association sat stoically unconvinced.
The civic group was being lobbied at a community center Tuesday night by representatives of the Tysons Corner Center, the capital region's largest mall, who were seeking support for their proposal to ring the retailing behemoth with office and condominium towers. As watercolor images of stylish mid-rises flashed on a screen, the mall's attorney extolled the plan as "spectacular."
To win approval for large-scale projects, county leaders often require developers to seek the favor of surrounding communities, an approach that amounts to the developer engaging in something like a political campaign.
It is unclear whether developers can create a traditional downtown at Tysons Corner, as county leaders want, while also heeding neighborhood demands.
But the mall representatives, whose proposal is one of the first to move to capitalize on the anticipated arrival of Metrorail to Tysons, are trying to shape public opinion in advance of county hearings planned for October.
Since 1994, the county land plan has called for creating a "downtown" at Tysons Corner, the capital region's second-largest job center, and as the rail plan advances, many developers have proposed bigger, more urban projects.
Anti-development pressure from homeowner groups and other organizations already has made a significant mark on the suburbs: More than half of the land surrounding the nation's capital is now protected from typical suburban housing development, according to The Washington Post's review of land plans in 14 counties in Virginia and Maryland.
Some argue that catering to not-in-my-backyard concerns can lead to decisions that sacrifice the greater good of the region. These neighborhood organizations have run afoul of environmental groups that often support dense developments as an antidote to sprawl.
"It's very frustrating," said Roger Diedrich, chairman of the Sierra Club's Virginia chapter, who lives in Fairfax. "It's natural for people to look at things from close to home. I think we're just looking at things from a broader perspective."
The effects of the Tysons Corner Center plan on traffic dominated Tuesday's discussion, and the crowd, many of whom have at least some familiarity with the intricacies of traffic planning, dived in on both sides.
Departing commissioner cautions that economy and quality of life threatened
BY PETER BACQUE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Saturday, July 2, 2005
Virginia's transportation system is in a deep decline that threatens the state's economy and quality of life, the state's outgoing transportation commissioner warned in his last communication with the General Assembly.
"We face serious trouble," Philip Shucet said in his letter to the legislators. "Not only is Northern Virginia's vibrant economy seriously threatened, but growing pressures in Hampton Roads could cripple one of her most important economic engines -- the port."
Transportation provides the foundation for economic health in Southside Virginia, the Piedmont, the Shenandoah Valley and Southwest Virginia, he said.
But, Shucet said, "We have more work to do to educate the public and ourselves about the impact of a backward-sliding transportation system."
He urged next year's legislature to find "sustainable sources of revenue" for the state's highway, port, aviation, rail and public-transit systems.
Virginia's transportation taxes have been fixed since 1987, losing more than 40 percent of their value to inflation since then. Meanwhile, the miles traveled by vehicles on Virginia's 57,000 miles of roads have grown by more than 50 percent and the
number of vehicles increased by 60 percent.
Shucet said the Virginia Department of Transportation "does not have to be big to be good."
VDOT's 9,300-member work force should continue to shrink, he said in the letter Tuesday.
At same time, it seeks to tighten growth limits in the rural west
By Larry Carson
July 1, 2005
The Robey administration is moving to boost affordable housing in eastern Howard County by up to 100 units a year while simultaneously tightening growth restrictions in the rural west -- part of a deal with state officials to preserve
eligibility for state farmland preservation aid.
The complicated transaction will not begin for at least another year under provisions of a bill scheduled for a County Council vote Tuesday.
Although the two goals are linked in the bill, they are prompted by separate concerns, according to Marsha L. McLaughlin, the county planning director. Spiraling home prices have closed middle-income buyers out of Howard's housing market, pushing government to help, while expensive new homes are rising too fast in the rural west, prompting state planning officials to threaten decertification of the county's agricultural preservation funding if something is not done.
Meanwhile, the county's Housing Commission has been prevented from developing moderate-income housing on land it owns in North Laurel by the county's complex growth controls, which limit how many permits can be issued for new homes in each of five geographic planning areas each year.
Western County Republican Charles C. Feaga is worried that removing allocations from his section might deprive some longtime landowners of the chance to sell to finance their retirements.
"I have some problems with this," he said, adding that he does not object, however, to providing more affordable housing.
But County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he favors reducing allocations in the west regardless of other moves.
John Taylor, a western county resident and a slow-growth advocate who sat on the county's APFO citizens committee, said he is opposed to the changes.
By Tim Mansel
The search for a coal-fired power station that does not give off any carbon dioxide has taken a step forward with the announcement of plans to build such a plant in Germany.
Vattenfall, a Swedish company, which owns mines and power stations in Germany, plans to start construction next year.
"We believe coal has a future," says Markus Sauthoff, who is leading the project.
"But this is linked to the carbon-dioxide trading system."
"It's likely that there will be quite ambitious emission reduction targets in the future, and that the price of CO2 trading certificates will be quite high, as a kind of penalty for the use of fossil fuels in power plants," he says.
"So we need to try to reduce our CO2 emissions."
Mr Sauthoff admits that "carbon-dioxide free" is something of a misnomer.
Burning coal inevitably produces carbon dioxide. The idea is to capture the carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere and then store it in a safe place.
The technology now being developed by Vattenfall is designed primarily for use with lignite, or brown coal, which is one of eastern Germany's primary mineral resources.
Saturday, July 2, 2005; Page A06
House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a level of spending for highway and transit projects that is acceptable to the White House. The agreement clears a major hurdle in the two-year effort to develop a new federal transportation plan.
Negotiators "have been working on a compromise for a transportation bill that would make much-needed improvements to federal highways," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in a midnight speech on the House floor Thursday. "Tonight they came to an agreement . . . to move that bill forward."
Congress has been unable to come up with a new bill, in part because lawmakers have sought significant increases in spending for transportation projects, drawing a veto threat from the White House over the cost of the bill.
Money for highway and transit spending is derived from the Highway Trust Fund, which comes from the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal tax that drivers pay at the gasoline pump.
The latest extension goes through July 19, giving negotiators several weeks after they return from the Independence Day recess to work out details of the legislation, including the formula that determines how much states get in federal grants in relation to their contributions to the trust fund.
Friday, July 01, 2005
Averted: Two Infrastructure Disasters Waiting to Happen
By SEWELL CHAN
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working to fix two significant defects in its sprawling infrastructure: an unstable utility vault beneath the Grand Hyatt New York in Midtown and a concrete retaining wall along the N subway line in Brooklyn that was close to collapse.
The authority disclosed the problems this week when its board approved contracts for temporary repairs until permanent ones could be made.
If the problems had not been found, the results could have been catastrophic, according to authority documents, which stated that the wall's condition "could present a danger to life, safety and property" and that the 20-ton vault would "cause major damage to the surrounding facilities" if it collapsed.
The vulnerability of the city's transportations systems has become apparent this year. In January, a fire destroyed a signal relay room in Lower Manhattan, crippling subway service for several weeks. In May, a 75-foot-tall retaining wall collapsed onto the Henry Hudson Parkway in Upper Manhattan, disrupting traffic for days.
Fortunately, the new problems were found during routine work.
The more significant seems to be the retaining wall in Brooklyn, which is 18 feet high and dates to 1914. Early last year, workers found that a 350-foot section of the wall, along the northbound track east of the New Utrecht Avenue station, had moved several inches toward the track between 63rd and 64th Streets.
The wall had major horizontal and vertical cracks, and deteriorated concrete had broken off. The authority took temporary measures promptly, but the wall continued to shift.
EPA-3 region is apparently holding up final approvals for the Inter County Connector in Montgomery County Maryland, and according to one expert they have a double standard. EPA officials are claiming that the tollroad would contravene the parklands protection provision "Section 4(f)" of the US Transportation Act, now 49USC303 but still referred to by its old moniker "Four-eff."
Click subject line above for more from Peter Samuel's TOLLROADSnews site.
See also this story on the WTOP Radio Web site - Decision on ICC Route Could Spell Highway's Demise.
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 27, 2005; Page B01
Fairfax County leaders say they will ensure that a massive development of towers and townhouses planned next to the Vienna Metro station does not choke the area's verdant neighborhoods with cars.
County supervisors, who will vote on the project in the fall, say they could force Pulte Homes to scale back its vision of 2,250 homes, offices and stores if the developer cannot convince them it would coax enough people from their cars and toward trains, buses, car pools or sidewalks.
It would be at least 10 years before MetroWest, with its narrow streets and coffee shops at the train's doorstep, is fully built. Only then will anyone know whether shoehorning up to 6,000 people onto 56 acres turns one of the most developed corners of Fairfax into a rush-hour parking lot or an enviable mini-city of walkers and transit riders.
A key piece of the puzzle will emerge this week, when transportation planners release their assessment of whether, as a report from consultant UrbanTrans says, Pulte can reduce enough of the forecasted car trips at MetroWest. The report lays out a menu of carrots and sticks, from expensive parking spaces to subsidies to ride Metro.
The county's goal is to shave by 47 percent the 1,356 rush-hour trips the project would generate if it were a traditional subdivision. For offices, the goal is 25 percent.
That will mean more aggressive enticements to pry people from their cars, even rewards to those who show they are riding Metro a lot. But critics worry that incentives might not do the trick. And they wonder: Can Pulte really be held accountable for controlling how much people drive?
The county could require Pulte to put money in escrow for possible fines against the developer, an idea under negotiation. Once the project is finished, a homeowners association would take over the job of reducing car trips.
Australia to the rescue?
June 30 2005
You may be interested to learn that a firm from way down under may soon be the operator of a Virginia toll road. In the annals of Virginia transportation, this amounts to one odd development.
If only it were the only odd development.
NO EASY REMEDIES
The nine-mile Pocahontas Parkway opened three years ago to cross the James River below Richmond and connect eastern Henrico County with fast-growing Chesterfield County. It was the first project advanced under the state's 1995 Public-Private Transportation Act and it helped build the road "at least 15 years sooner than it would have been through public funds alone," Gov. Mark Warner declared at the ribbon-cutting.
Warner was right about the building part. The almost $300 million raised through the sale of private bonds accelerated the project.
Traffic projections, however, proved somewhat optimistic, with only half as many toll-paying vehicles as expected using the road. Even with a toll increase last August, revenues have been less than sufficient to service the debt.
Enter an Australian (as in, kangaroo) outfit called Transurban, which has established a formal interest in buying, for about $350 million, the right to all toll proceeds on the Pocahontas Parkway. If the deal goes through, it will be the first foreign acquisition for Transurban, which operates toll roads in Sydney and Melbourne.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH A BUS?
Not convinced yet? Then take a gander at the Northern Virginia Metrorail extension to Tyson's Corner. The price on it just went up, too, from the originally projected sum of $1.5 billion to a whopping $2.4 billion.
OFF THE RAILS
Efforts to Repair Aging System Compound Metro's Problems
The Downside of Escalator Renovation
In $93 Million Metro Project, More Than a Third End Up Worse
Safety Warnings Often Ignored at Metro
Responses to Derailments, Track Flaws and Station Overruns Have Fallen Short, Records Show
Metro Trying to Erase Image of Poor Service
Better Handling of Disruptions Emphasized
Service for Disabled Is Troubled
Metro Grapples With Late Rides, High Costs, Fraud Claims
Fitful Money Management
Metro Spending Often Veers From Core Transit Mission
Review Finds Metrobus in Decay
Outside Experts Say System Needs Investment
GAO Asked To Investigate Metro Costs
Many Seek to Expand Oversight of Spending
While the following article is not part of the series above, it is still highly relevant - the cost to construct the 103-mile Adopted Regional System for Metrorail balooned from $2.55 billion in 1969 to at least $9 bilion (and probably closer to $12 billion) by the time it was completed in 2001 (over 20 years behind schedule). And since the Metrorail system is currently not capable of running 8-car train consists on 2-minute headways, as was promised long ago (because of deliberate undersizing of traction power stations and not having enough railcars), the system isn't really even complete today.
Price Soars For Extension Of Metrorail
Cuts to Be Sought In Tysons Project
But a developer says the programs allowed the city to revitalize
BY DAVID RESS
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Jul 1, 2005
Mayor L. Douglas Wilder wants to crack down on tax breaks for developers he believes have cost the city millions of dollars it can no longer afford.
Wilder is asking City Council and the state Department of Housing and Community Development to cut the number of years a developer gets a property tax break and to tighten the rules for granting tax breaks on rehabilitated homes.
He also wants to stop a practice that lets developers get an abatement for large new buildings when they add on to existing structures, which resulted in huge tax breaks for the First Market Bank headquarters building in Shockoe Bottom and the $90 million Riverside on the James project on Brown's Island, among others.
"Maybe it's a loophole or a misunderstanding. Certainly, developers have taken advantage of the law as it is written," city spokesman Bill Farrar said yesterday. "We feel this is not in keeping with the spirit of the program."
Roads to Region's Beaches Are Ranked Among Nation's Worst in Vacation Congestion
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 1, 2005; B01
Beachgoing Washingtonians will run into some of the worst summertime bottlenecks in the nation over what is expected to be a record-cracking Independence Day weekend, according to a national report released yesterday.
The survey found that three of the five most congested summer hot spots in the country are prime choices for Washingtonians: The Tidewater area ranked second, the Maryland-Delaware shore was third and the Outer Banks of North Carolina came in fifth.
Other popular destinations such as the New Jersey shore, Cape Cod and the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish country also made the top 10. The Oregon coast topped the list of worst summertime drives.
"Many of us spend the beginning and end of our vacations sitting in congestion that rivals our daily commutes," said Greg Cohen, president and chief executive of the American Highway Users Alliance, one of the sponsors of the study.
Melanie Fett knows that she probably will be one of them this weekend. She's taking the seventh-worst drive in the nation to the Jersey shore to enjoy the beach with friends. At least, they'll be enjoying the beach; she'll be driving.
"It won't be much, like an afternoon," she said of her expected time on the sand. "It's a lot of driving for a little bit of time."
The summer bottleneck survey was a joint project of the Highway Users Alliance, AAA and TRIP, a transportation research group. Representatives from the groups called for more transportation funding to make changes, including widening roads, adding turn lanes and improving efforts to clear roads of accidents and breakdowns.
It also said that the limited number of bridges on many coastal routes adds delays, often reaching hours, on many trips. People going to the Delaware and Maryland shores, for instance, usually begin their vacations by sitting in long lines at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Thursday, June 30, 2005
USA Major Metropolitan Areas: Suburban and Core City Growth: 2000 to 2004
I've posted some tidbits below - e-mail me with your e-mail address if you want to see the whole thing and I'll send you a pointer to it that's free of charge on the _WSJ_ Web site.
Why Spending on Light Rail And Traffic Technologies May Not Ease Gridlock
By KIRSTI MCCABE
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE
June 29, 2005 5:39 p.m.
The U.S. Census Bureau issued a report in March indicating that the average American spends more than 100 hours a year commuting to work. Meanwhile, the Texas Transportation Institute issued a study in May indicating that the average American wastes 47 hours a year stuck in traffic during peak travel times and the related waste of time and fuel costs Americans about $63 billion a year in urban areas.
Anthony Downs, a senior fellow in metropolitan policy and economic studies at the Brookings Institution and author of the books "Stuck in Traffic" and "Still Stuck in Traffic," says traffic is the price Americans pay for rising productivity and prosperity. While many policy prescriptions are being considered, they will do little more than slow the pace of rising traffic congestion.
WSJ.com talked with Mr. Downs about the escalating problem. His advice: Get used to it.
WSJ.com: What are the economic implications of the growing problem of traffic congestion? Is it having any measurable effect on productivity?
Mr. Downs: The basic problem of our society is not congestion, it's that we want to move too many people at the same time, and that problem arises from the way societies in the United States and throughout the world are organized.
No society could organize itself to create sufficient roads or other means of transportation so that everybody who wants to move at the same time could move at 60 miles per hour. [Time spent sitting in traffic] is not wasted time. From the point of view of the driver who's sitting there, it seems like a waste of time, but it's the price society pays to organize itself efficiently.
We're spending more time than we'd like [in traffic], and the time we're spending is getting greater as time passes. [But] it's impossible to conceive of a rush hour without congestion. We'd have to reorganize our society totally, and that would cause extreme inefficiency in productivity.
WSJ.com: In many urban areas, particularly smaller and mid-sized cities, building an extensive public transportation system isn't practical or cost-effective. But in larger cities, should policy makers being doing more to encourage the use of public transportation or expand current systems to reach more potential users?
Mr. Downs: For politicians to say we're going to fix traffic congestion is a lie; they can't fix it. They're tempted to do so because they hear people complaining about it so much.
In Phoenix, the mayor said when we build a new light-rail system, traffic will fall dramatically on all the expressways. That's not true; it won't fall at all, in fact.
Almost all cities that have added light-rail systems -- even in Los Angeles, which added a heavy rail system -- there's been no reduction in traffic congestion. In fact, traffic congestion has gotten worse, not because they added public transit but because of rising population and rising incomes.
As long as we have rising population and rising incomes, public transit additions are not going to reduce traffic congestion. There may be good reasons to build them -- expanding capacity, and for giving people more choices if they can't drive -- but reducing congestion is not a good reason. It won't work.
Environmentalists Oppose Construction in County's Agricultural Reserve
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 30, 2005; Page B01
Montgomery County Council member George L. Leventhal says he's getting a lot of calls from churchgoers who say they are praying for him.
Leventhal (D-At Large) and other council members find themselves in the middle of a political struggle between environmental groups and two churches over what development, if any, should be allowed in the county's agricultural reserve.
"To say no to a church is to say no to individuals and families, children and senior citizens," Bishop Darlingston G. Johnson, presiding prelate of Bethel World Outreach Ministries, wrote to council members, who are scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue today.
Environmentalists, who have the backing of some other faith groups in the county, are even more direct. "We do have an election coming up, and the Sierra Club makes endorsements before the election," said Anne Ambler, chair of the Montgomery County Group of the Sierra Club.
At issue before the council are efforts by the 2,500-member Bethel World Outreach church in Silver Spring, which has a largely black congregation, and 2,000-member Seneca Creek Community Church in Germantown to move to larger complexes in the agricultural reserve.
Leaders of both congregations say they have outgrown their locations. And with land scarce and real estate prices high, both turned to the agricultural reserve for a new home.
By Mike Allen and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 30, 2005; 4:15 PM
Key leaders of both parties in both chambers of Congress vowed today to use the power of the purse to negate this week's Supreme Court ruling allowing local and state governments to use eminent domain to take private property for economic development purposes.
Bills introduced in the House and Senate would yank federal funds from any city or state project that forced people to sell their property to make way for a project like a hotel or strip mall.
The 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision last week has sparked an immediate and visceral backlash among conservatives. The response on Capitol Hill was unusual for its speed and bipartisan support, and for the biting language the lawmakers used to criticize the high court.
The BART system as a whole anticipates a $24 million annual deficit in F.Y. 2006 even after cutting more than 100 jobs, raising fares, and increasing fees to park at park-and-ride stations. Transit unions are threatening a strike because they want pay increases that BART can't afford to give them.
BART apologists still say that the point is to "give people more options to get out of their car." But why do people who already have plenty of options need one more when the cost is to cut bus service to low-income neighborhoods where many people have few options?
The neighborhood in question, near the county fairgrounds, is currently mainly single-family homes, but a recent zoning plan would infill it with "cheap apartments." This has already happened to other neighborhoods in Eugene, but mainly near the University.
The city appears to have agreed to reduce the density standards for the fairgrounds neighborhood and plans to make up the difference by increasing the density standards for another planned mixed-use neighborhood. But planners wonder what will happen if other neighborhoods ask to have their density standards reduced. The whole plan could fall apart.
When the density plan was first proposed, planners led residents to believe that "infill" meant cute cottages in the large backyards of some older homes. Instead, what is happening "is really low-end, poorly designed, overbuilt, multi-unit structures being jammed in backyards and alleys with no consideration for the impact on adjacent properties," complained a resident.
Those who oppose urban sprawl should be careful what they wish for. As H.L. Mencken said, they may get it -- good and hard.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Jobs, Cheaper Housing in Suburbs Attracting Immigrants
By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 30, 2005; A03
After shedding residents for decades, many U.S. cities revived in the 1990s, with immigrants streaming in and gentrification resurrecting downtowns with lofts, coffee bars and trendy restaurants.
But new Census Bureau estimates to be released today show many cities slipping again. More than two dozen large cities that had been growing a decade ago are shrinking. Fast-growing suburbs with service-sector jobs and more affordable housing are attracting thousands of foreign-born residents who in the past would have started out in the city.
The list of former gainers that have lost population since 2000 include Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
"The broad swing of things is that people move out. For a lot of people, the city is simply a way station, and it's not clear how long these rosy times of the late '90s would continue," said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer. "We're clearly going in a somewhat different direction than we were in the late '90s."
Among the nation's 251 cities with at least 100,000 people, 68 lost population between 2000 and 2004, according to the new figures. In the 1990s, 36 did.
Regionally, the biggest change was in the Midwest, where a third of cities lost population in the 1990s but more than 60 percent did this decade, according to Frey's calculations. The South and West also have more losing cities this decade, including San Francisco and nearby Oakland, where demographers blamed high housing prices and the collapse of the high-tech economy. Frey's analysis also found that expansion slowed in some formerly fast-growing cities.
The only region that has fewer shrinking cities this decade is the Northeast, where some older places such as Newark, N.J., and New Haven, Conn., have rebounded after decades of loss. The estimates found that New York City has kept growing since 2000, and that longtime population-losing older cities such as Cleveland and Philadelphia continued to shrink.
Census Bureau figures released earlier said the District and Baltimore have continued to lose population, as they have every decade since the 1950s. City officials in Washington and Baltimore -- as in Boston, Chicago and some other cities -- dispute the figures, saying they undercount immigrants and new housing units. Census Bureau demographer Greg Harper said the agency has improved its count of both since the 1990s.
But urban experts say they are convinced that the general trend of city population loss this decade is real. In retrospect, the gains that made the 1990s the best decade for big cities since World War II may have been a temporary exception to the long-term pattern. Except for those who can afford high-priced city housing, the lure of the suburbs is too strong, they say.
Television ad to be unveiled today to push summer tourism and the E-Z Pass.
By Jennifer Skalka
Originally published June 29, 2005
Looking like old chums, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer are featured in a campy television advertisement to be unveiled today that is the latest and most visible element of a $900,000 state campaign to push summer tourism and the E-Z Pass.
In the 30-second spot, the men load a surprised family of four into a beige minivan, packing up their golf clubs, surfboards and a yellow rubber ducky floating toy.
Today, Ehrlich is also expected to launch E-Z Pass "On the Go," a program that allows people to purchase a pass from participating retailers rather than just the state, and a new free hot line that will provide information about Bay Bridge traffic.
Besides the TV spot, the campaign includes radio and billboard advertisements.
As with previous Maryland tourism ads featuring Ehrlich, the latest campaign is drawing some criticism. Already, Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, has charged that Ehrlich and Schaefer - who both face re-election next year - are using state money to boost their public images.
Maryland Transportation Authority official Web site
Maryland E-ZPass Service Center
When approved by voters in 2002, advocates said the monorail would cost $1.75 billion, or well over $100 million a mile. The Seattle Monorail Project promised that if costs grew or the project otherwise proved infeasible, they would not build it. Now, says the Seattle Weekly, the Project "feels it has approval from taxpayers to build, operate, and maintain the start-up Green Line at any cost."
Despite higher costs and lower revenues, the Project thinks it can still build the monorail simply by borrowing money over a longer period of time. A lot longer: it is currently projecting that it will take as much as 73 years to repay the bonds. This significantly increases the total cost.
Monorail Project officials dismiss the higher cost, claiming it is no different than paying for a house on a 30-year mortgage instead of a 15-year mortgage. But that is absurd: If you can pay for your house in fifteen years, you can spend the monthly payment on something else for the following fifteen years. If Seattle could pay for the monorail in 15 years instead of 50 or more, it could spend the tax revenues after that on something else or let the taxpayers keep the money.
Seattlites voted for a light-rail line whose costs ballooned out of sight and then were foolish enough to vote for a monorail whose costs are now ballooning out of sight. Some people never learn.
BY PETER BACQUE
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Is that road-widening down the street ever going to be finished?
How about if your subdivision street's up for repaving -- and when's it going to happen?
Are our roads any safer these days? Does VDOT care about the environment? And what's all this going to cost?
Now you can find out.
And if you don't like it, you can tell VDOT's top brass just exactly what you think about it.
Outgoing state Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet introduced his legacy to the public yesterday -- a much-expanded performance reporting system for VDOT's work, now openly available on the Internet.
When the Virginia Department of Transportation put its first Dashboard version on the Internet two years ago, "It scared a whole lot of us, including me," Shucet said.
But VDOT gets almost $3 billion in taxpayer money a year and "that situation demands the highest level of accountability," Shucet said at his last meeting with the department's senior staff.
By Larry Carson
Originally published June 29, 2005
A ray of legal hope is lifting spirits among the small band of holdouts living in the closed Ev-Mar Mobile Home Park in Savage after a Howard County District Court ruling this week that pulled them back from the precipice of eviction.
Judge Neil Edward Axel ruled that the remaining nine families have a right to a Circuit Court jury trial, frustrating for the second time in two months attempts by lawyers for the absentee owners -- heirs of the late Henry and Evelyn Meyn -- to regain possession of the 6.8-acre plot on Gorman Road.
Worse, from the landowners' view, the decision raises the possibility that the working-class residents could get a chance to argue before fellow citizens that they are being unjustly forced from their homes and left destitute by absentee owners anticipating a reported $3.6 million land sale.
Ev-Mar is facing a fate increasingly common for mobile home parks along redeveloping U.S. 1 as land values climb steeply. It is the third old trailer park to close in Howard County, and the 241-lot Aladdin Village in Jessup is expected to be next, county officials have said. The closings eliminate a prime source of moderate-income housing at a time when more families are being priced out of the market.
Council Chairman Says D.C. Can't Afford Rising Cost
By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 29, 2005; Page B01
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) yesterday called for new ways of paying for Metro, saying the District cannot afford the increasing costs of the aging transportation system.
Cropp suggested instituting a regional tax, increasing the federal government's share of funding or renegotiating the current funding agreement, which requires the District to pay slightly more than Maryland and much more than Virginia.
"We're willing to pay our fair share, but not more than our fair share," Cropp said. "Metro will eat us alive."
However, this misses an important point in the Supreme Court decision: As pointed out in the American Planning Association press release endorsing the Kelo decision, the court allowed the taking not because it boosted the town's tax revenues but because (to quote the decision), "the City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community."
Although they managed to fool five members of the Supreme Court, and numerous elected officials around the country, the truth is that cities are not capable of formulating a careful economic development plan because cities are simply too complicated to plan. The decentralized free market is the only institution we have developed that can handle the complexities of urban life. As demonstrated by East Germany, not to mention numerous American examples, any attempt to centrally plan a region, city, or part of a city will end in disaster.
Urban planners as represented by the American Planning Association claim they have the tools to do such planning. But most of them don't even understand basic economics, much less know how to deal with the needs and desires of hundreds of thousands or millions of people. As a result, they rely on fads such as urban renewal, smart growth, and traffic calming.
Adding insult to the injury of lost property rights, the Supreme Court has turned these planners into witch doctors, capable of rattling a magic gourd and justifying the taking of private property for other private interests so that cities can increase their revenues. The most important thing we have to do in the coming battle over property rights is discredit the planners and let everyone, including members of the Supreme Court, know that their plans are far from scientific but are based on the same sorts of prejudices and economic interests that motivate any interest group.
The UNC Center for Civil Rights and the DC based Poverty & Race Research Action Council have examined the patterns of annexation and ETJ where cities are given broad powers to annex at will and control development beyond the municipal boundaries.
Using GIS-based spatial analysis, mapping techniques and US Census data, they document a pattern of economic and often racial exclusion from cities, while wealthier, revenue generating areas are taken into the tax rolls of cities against their will.
"Minority Exclusion in Small Town America" by James H. Johnson, Jr., Ann Moss Joyner & Allan Parnell
Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities
Racial Apartheid in a Small North Carolina Town
UNC Ctr. for Civil Rights
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 29, 2005; Page B01
Maryland and Virginia have not figured out what to do with two of the 12 lanes planned for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge now rising in the Potomac River.
The lanes must be used for carpools, trains or another form of transit under the deal that launched the project to replace the aging span, but state leaders said they have not talked about which to choose.
The Wilson Bridge span under construction, the first of two planned, is scheduled to open in the spring.
"When the bridge opens, those lanes at that time will represent excess capacity," Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said.
The lanes will serve as shoulders until a use is designated.
Official Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project Web site
GAO Report: Public Transit: Opportunities Exist to Improve the Communication and Transparency of Changes Made to the New Starts Program
Full Report (Adobe Acrobat .pdf, 695 KB)
Report Abstract (HTML) See below
The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and subsequent legislation authorized about $13.5 billion in guaranteed funding for the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) New Starts program, which is used to select fixed guideway transit projects, such as rail and trolley projects, and to award full funding grant agreements (FFGA). GAO assessed the New Starts process for the fiscal year 2006 cycle. GAO identified (1) the number of projects that were evaluated, rated, and proposed for new FFGAs and the proposed funding commitments in the administration's budget request; (2) changes FTA has made to the New Starts application, evaluation, rating, and oversight processes since the fiscal year 2001 evaluation cycle and how these changes have been communicated to project sponsors; and (3) how FTA developed the measures used to evaluate and rate projects from the criteria outlined in TEA-21 and how those measures are used in the rating process.
For the fiscal year 2006 evaluation cycle, FTA evaluated and rated 27 projects and identified 4 projects that were expected to be ready for new FFGAs before the end of fiscal year 2006 and an additional 6 projects that may be eligible for other funding outside of FFGAs. The administration's fiscal year 2006 budget proposal requests $1.5 billion for the New Starts program, a request similar to that of the past 2 years. FTA has made 16 changes to the New Starts application, evaluation, rating, and oversight processes since the fiscal year 2001 cycle that were primarily intended to make the process more rigorous and systematic. Seven of the 16 changes underwent rulemaking, including providing formal notice to the transit industry and soliciting comment, while 9 changes did not. FTA officials said that these nine changes are consistent with the existing regulations governing the New Starts process or relate to the project development oversight process rather than the evaluation and rating process and, therefore, in their opinion, do not need to undergo formal rulemaking. By not consistently soliciting public opinion, however, FTA is missing an opportunity to obtain stakeholder buy-in, increase the transparency of the New Starts process, and lessen potential difficulties project sponsors face in implementing the changes. Many of the measures FTA uses to evaluate and rate New Starts projects have evolved over time, with industry input, through formal rulemaking and informal efforts, such as workshops and reports. Although both TEA-21 and FTA's New Starts program regulations emphasize the importance of using a multiple-measure approach for evaluating projects, FTA assigns weight to all three financial criteria but only two of the five project justification criteria in developing a project's rating. FTA officials said that they do not use the other three project justification criteria--which are specified in TEA-21--because the measures fail to distinguish among projects. Project sponsors we interviewed offered suggestions for improving all of the project justification measures, and FTA has efforts underway to improve some of the measures.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
"Northern route favored by EPA could doom project"
"The routes under consideration include a long-planned southern route that has support from state and county lawmakers but faces strong objections from the federal Environmental Protection Agency because of its potential damage to streams, parkland and a self-reproducing population of brown trout. A northern route gets an "acceptable" grade from the EPA, but it plows through more homes and businesses, faces strong political opposition and could degrade the region's water supply."
"Jack Cahalan, spokesman for state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, said the situation remains fluid."
"Flanagan will make a recommendation on an alignment to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), although the federal government effectively has veto power."
"Either way, lawsuits are coming."
"The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission strongly opposes the northern alignment because of the potential damage to the watershed of the Rocky Gorge Reservoir on the Patuxent River."
"Spokesman Chuck Brown said the agency has not yet discussed filing its own lawsuit if the northern alignment is chosen. "Common sense dictates that the state should not select any highway alignment that threatens the drinking water supply of more than 500,000 people," he said."
"A June 10 letter from the EPA to Stuart Rochester, chairman of the Fairland Master Plan Citizens Advisory Committee and a strong opponent of the northern alignment, said the EPA was continuing to evaluate the drinking water issue in consultation
with state highway officials."
"Peter Samuel of Frederick, editor of Toll Roads News and an ICC supporter, said he suspects that the EPA's pronouncements are a veiled attempt to block the highway, and predicted that the state and U.S. Department of Transportation ultimately will choose the southern alignment."
"Samuel has been particularly critical of the brown trout issue, which he calls "absurd." Samuel noted that the National Park Service has considered brown trout, originally imported from Europe, to be an invasive species that has crowded out native trout species in areas such as the Great Smoky Mountains, where park officials have tried to eradicate brown trout with poison and electric shocks."
Peter Samuel's TOLLROADSnews Web site
Official Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Web site
Official MDOT InterCounty Connector Web site
Published: Monday, June 27, 2005 11:07 PM EDT
Before Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, R-11th, holds hearings on Metro later this summer, he might want to get a copy of "Rail Disasters 2005," a study by the American Dream Institute released last week by LOWER and Notollincrease.com, two local groups vehemently opposed to Metro's Dulles Rail project.
The chairman of the House Government Reform Committee might be interested to learn that, according to the study, Congress has allowed transit agencies "to overinvest in capital-intensive projects in order to get 'their share' of federal funds." However, this process has created major disincentives to provide the public with the most cost-efficient public transportation available - and that's bus routes, not rail lines.
Comparing transit ridership in 23 urban areas over the past two decades, senior economist Randal O'Toole comes to a rather startling conclusion: Cities that emphasize far less expensive bus transit attract riders just as fast - or even faster - than those with expensive commuter rail lines. Yet to snare federal funds, transit officials, including those running Washington's Metro system, push to expand rail despite its poor record.
And its cost.
Inflation-adjusted subsidies to the transit industry increased from $20 billion in 1992 to almost $31 billion in 2003 (two-thirds of it spent on rail), while highway subsidies went from $6.6 billion in 1992 to $15.2 billion in 2003, the study found. "Yet highways produce nearly 100 times as much passenger transport plus far more freight transport than transit," O'Toole noted.
Despite massive local and federal subsidies, Metrorail's share of daily commuters is a disappointing 9 percent. LOWER President Ken Reid points out that Metro initially projected 1.3 million daily passengers by 1990; the reality is less than half that
number. And between 1987 and 1996, increases in rail riders corresponded to declines in Metrobus passengers.
"If this is any indication, then Dulles Rail won't meet ridership projections either, but wind up costing taxpayers billions in construction, operating and maintenance costs, plus higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road," Reid said.
Residents of the three cities - New York, San Francisco and Washington - that still plan to build new rail lines face what O'Toole, author of "The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths," says is a triple threat: Cost overruns (averaging 41 percent) force higher fares and diminished service, leading to ridership losses. Declining revenue during recessions do the same. Yet as Metro's current situation aptly demonstrates, rail lines deteriorate after 30 years and require massive capital investment to maintain.
Four special interest groups continue to promote rail anyway. "Environmentalists, the rail construction industry, downtown business interests and mayors of central cities all benefit from congestion, especially in the suburbs," O'Toole told The Examiner. Diverting federal highway funds to build rail lines produces economic and political benefits for these groups, he added, but does not relieve traffic congestion.
Nor does a rail station itself guarantee development. "Without a freeway on-ramp, there's not much development even in places zoned for it," O'Toole pointed out. Even Ballston, often touted as a prime example of transit-oriented development, wouldn't
have happened without nearby Interstates 66 and 395, he argues, pointing out Metro stations in Maryland that have not duplicated Ballston's success.
Transit ridership is either stagnant or declining in two of three urban areas with rail - but growing in cities such as Austin, Texas, Charlotte, N.C., Las Vegas and Raleigh-Durham, where the number of new bus riders is increasing faster than the number of new drivers. Until Congress recognizes that there's a better way to get people out of their cars, billions of dollars in federal funds will continue to go where they do the least amount of good.
Hi, american dreamers. Chris walker and I put this statement out Monday regarding the new cost overruns for Dulles Rail. We should have put it out Saturday when the media were grabbing at the story, however. But ive been interviewed by 2 papers so far, other than the Post.
DULLES RAIL SHOULD BE CANCELED OR PUT TO REFERENDUM;
$1 BILLION OVERRUN JUST THE LATEST LIE FROM
Ken Reid, 703-470-4002 (cell), or 703-779-8777 Kreid@Dullesfreeway.org
Or Chris Walker, 703 758 3807.
In response to the shocking disclosure Friday that the price tag for bringing Metrorail toWiehle Avenue in Reston has jumped by nearly $1 billion, leaders of Notollincrease.com and Landowners Opposing Wasteful Expenditures on Rail (LOWER), urged the Gov. Mark Warner and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in Richmond to cancel the Dulles Rail project immediately or put it to referendum to see if Northern Virginia voters really want to continue with this $2.4 billion boondoggle.
Christopher W. Walker, chairman and founder of the two groups, said:
“‘Wiehle Rail’ does not reduce the intolerable traffic congestion we face in
Northern Virginiaand thus should never have been proposed in the first place. More modern technologies such as express toll lanes, upgraded bus rapid transit service, and just in time carpooling are far better approaches that now must be seriously examined.”
“With the revised number, Dulles Rail will consume 2/3 of all transportation dollars allocated to
Northern Virginiafrom now to 2012. This is a collossal misallocation since Dulles Rail will only accommodate 1/2 of 1% of demand.
“If the politicians don't have the courage to admit they have proposed a white elephant, they must leave the decision up to area voters in a referendum. We say: Don't get taken for a ride, let the users decide.”
It also should be noted that that even if the Tysons tunnel is canceled and replaced with a 50-foot-high trestle to save on money, the project appears to be over budget by $200 million.
It also is ironic that during the environmental study where bus rapid transit was compared to heavy rail, VDRPT and Metro refused to study any stations for bus rapid transit in Tysons on grounds an elevated busway would have to be constructed.
“At that time, the project team said an elevated structure like this would have ‘visual impacts,’” noted Ken Reid, executive director of LOWER and Notollincrease.com.
“Commuters and taxpayers cannot trust anything out of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. Even the 2011 opening date should be suspect,” he said.
Reid also said this “Chinese Wall” in Tysons Corner will detract from the area and make it less desirable for development, particularly retail.
LOWER represents commercial property owners in Reston and Tysons Corner who oppose being taxed to finance the Wiehle Rail extension.
Notollincrease.com is a citizens group comprising about 1,700 residents of Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and other